Coaching for Balance in Leadership

Using Qualities of Practice Cards®

THE COACH: Mary Musselbrook, EB Director. 

THE CLIENT  (Jack*): Director, Distribution, Commercial sector, male. 

THE CHALLENGE: To bring his leadership more to the fore, a more influential presence and voice within his peer-group of Directors.  

THE APPROACH: Using the Qualities of Practice Cards® to engage in constructive reflection.


OVERARCHING QUESTION: If your aim is to build professional relationships in a way that facilitates shared leadership on the wider team and business agenda, how can you enrich the working relationships with your peer team in a way that would feel authentic and comfortable?


Jack has an outstanding reputation for tenacity and delivery, his attention is focused downwards. He has a huge passion for the work, loves his job and is constantly thinking about his leadership of his team - how to motivate them and build accountability for excellent performance.  

Through exploratory coaching he saw how his deep-seated values for working hard, and intense focus on delivery, had led to an unhelpful mindset. Seeing peer team meetings as being, at best an opportunity to compare his area of work with others, at worst, an unwelcome distraction from his ‘real work’. His peers had said they found him distant and intense, not easy to relax with.

He carries a strong belief that the workplace focus should be on fulfilling responsibilities and delivering successful outcomes, in a way that respects other people involved. He believes that home life and friendships are separate and private.

The coaching described here centred around the overarching question (as above): how to enrich working relationships and at the same time remain authentic, true to yourself.


A Qualities of Practice exercise identified qualities most present when the client was amongst his peers. These were: 

Competitive (for him, this translated into wanting to represent his own area well)

Goal-focused (making the links to business targets)

Responsible (committed to ‘earning his salary’)

Decisive (keen to push through the agenda items)

Connective (looking for ways to learn from what other peers were doing).  

Jack then selected 3 balancing qualities that come naturally to him in social environments outside of work. Qualities that could also be valuable in creating stronger relationships within the team.  He chose: Expressive, Inquiring and Perceptive. As much as he recognised these qualities in himself, he noticed they became eclipsed by the more competitive, goal-driven dominant side of himself at work.

With this range of 8 cards (white-side up), Jack was invited to arrange them in what he imagined would be balancing pairs of qualities - with the view that by bringing one quality alongside another would create a productive balance and counter-balance for his leadership-in-practice. 

He came up with the following pairs and described examples of what he felt the pairings could give him. Illustrated here. 

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Arranging Qualities of Practice for Balance and Counter-balance

The balancing qualities and how they could strengthen his leadership:

  • Decisive and Inquiring: Retaining momentum and staying curious about what the decision meant for others in the room

  • Perceptive and Goal-focused: Picking up on the mood of the group - “reading the room” - and paying attention to that, rather than ignoring it in pursuit of the goal and then finding that political dynamics were creating obstacles that could have more easily been handled

  • Connective and Competitive: As well as being competitive for his own area to be high-performing, also looking for ways that his area could contribute to lifting the overall performance of the company in relation to external competitors.

  • Responsible and Empathetic: Directing his sense of responsibility to accepting greater responsibility for how the team performed as a collective and using his empathy to tune into the anxieties and ‘hotspots’ that his peers were experiencing.

Jack was then asked to turn the cards over. Illustrated here.


Coaching for Balance in Leadership

This led to a much deeper exploration of the meaning of the different colours and the implications of this on Jack’s leadership, with a view of building a more balanced leadership practice with his peers, and throughout his leadership role.


Jack was intrigued by the pattern of the green with purple pairings. This opened up a deeper conversation about balance in his leadership style. His greatest insight was to appreciate that he could achieve a deeper and more meaningful engagement as a leader within his peer group, by accessing qualities that are already strong in himself, but had become eclipsed in his day-to-day leadership in the context of his peers.  

He has since found himself more readily asking questions of his peers in a way that showed interest and curiosity, clarifying issues and stimulating better debate. Interestingly, he also describes himself as feeling much less defensive. He now takes the view that being in balance can mean better and more sustainable progress on decisions.

His boss has recently given him feedback that he values Jack’s perspective and the shift in his approach, inviting him to make recommendations for a review of the structure and nature of peer meetings.

*To maintain client anonymity the name Jack is a pseudonym


Growing Inclusive Leadership

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Coaching for Balance in Leadership

Strengthening a Team